London, England, United Kingdom
The British Museum
Hegira mid-8th century/ AD mid-14th century
Brass inlaid with silver and gold.
Length 30.7 cm
Egypt or Syria.
A rectangular brass pen box with hinged lid and interior compartments, decorated both inside and out with silver and gold inlay. Around the outside a series of medallions alternate with inscriptions; both are surrounded by arabesque scrolls. A radial inscription inside the lid includes the titles of an anonymous amir. On either side of this central epigraphic roundel are two more medallions filled with lotus flowers. Lotus flowers and peonies, derived from Chinese art in the form of chinoiserie, appear in Mamluk decorative arts during the AH 8th / AD 14th century. Chinese motifs were imported to Egypt and Syria by the Mongols in Iran; the influence is also evident in Iranian art of the same period. Like much of the Mamluk metalwork of this period, figurative representation is absent; the decoration comprising calligraphy, together with floral and geometric designs. Pens would have been kept in the larger compartment while the smaller containers at one end were for ink, sand (for blotting ink) and threads (for cleaning the reed-pens).View Short Description
A brass pen box with compartments to store pens, ink, sand and threads. Typical of Mamluk metalwork from the AH 8th / AD 14th century, this object is devoid of figures and is instead covered in calligraphy with floral and geometric decoration.
By the mid-8th/14th century most Mamluk metalwork was decorated with epigraphy, rather than with figures; this pen box features calligraphic panels with floral and geometric designs. The presence of lotus flowers and peonies also points to the mid-8th / 14th century when these decorative elements became more commonplace in Mamluk art. For example, peonies can also be found on a series of mosque lamps dating to this period.
Bequeathed to the British Museum by William Burges in 1881.
Stylistically this pen box relates to other inlaid metalwork objects produced in the Mamluk domains of Egypt of Syria. Moreover, the name of an anonymous Mamluk amir is inscribed on this object.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.111–3, fig. 85.
Emily Shovelton "Pen box" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;29;en
Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton
Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK1 35
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem: Centres of Mamluk Intellectual Life
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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